We know that children raised by two parents tend to be more successful — at school, in the future labor market, in their own marriages — than children raised by a single mom or dad. And from this fact, it might seem easy to conclude that marriage wields some outsized power over a child's life — that its absence creates unstable homes and chaotic families, while its presence nurtures them.You can see where she is going -- abolish marriage, increase welfare spending, and force parenting classes.
In reality, though, the question of why children of married parents are more likely to thrive is an extraordinarily complicated one. ...
Among all of these factors, it's not easy to tease out what matters most. But the answers (as best as we can identify them) are crucial for public policy. If we believe that marriage itself is what matters for children, then we'd want to encourage parents to marry. If we believe it's the financial stability that matters, then we'd want to find ways to bolster the income of single parents outside of marriage. If we believe it's the good parenting skills so often present in married households that make the difference, we could try to instill those skills in parents regardless of whether they have spouses.
A critic responds:
Let’s cut to the chase. This is just another attempt to attack the traditional family and undermine the importance of marriage. If all that matters for children “to thrive” (which Badger defines in basically materialistic and economic terms) is decent parenting skills — such as reading to and eating meals with the kids — and a healthy bank account, then most anyone could successfully raise a child. A single dad. Or not a dad. A single mom. Or not. Two men. Two women. How about a nanny? Would that work? Sounds like it.I follow the science here. If research proves that a welfare check and a parenting class are just as good as a dad, then I will post it here. But I seriously doubt it. Our civilization is based on families, and it is a huge experiment to think that it can be done any other way.
A glaring omission from Badger’s analysis is the biological, psychological, and spiritual dimension of a child. The researchers she cites—who coldly call marriage a “commitment device”—seem oblivious to what it means to be a complete human being. We don’t come into the world isolated and alone. We are born into a social framework, a family. We are born to two parents — a father and a mother—and this is deeply significant to the well-being of the whole child.
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